Rare Portrait of William Moseley II on View for the First Time since 1897 at the Thoroughgood House in Virginia Beach – Mystery Remains on the Rest of the Family Portraits
Virginia Beach, Va. – (July 2018) – A portrait of William Moseley II (1635 – 1671) by an unknown Dutch artist is on view at the Thoroughgood House in Virginia Beach through the summer. This rare portrait was last exhibited with another painting of William’s brother, Arthur Moseley, for three days at a Daughters of the American Revolution exhibit in Richmond in 1897.
The portrait on display through the Virginia Beach History Museums shows Moseley II as a young man about age 14. Originally there were four paintings of family members, and these 17th-century portraits are believed to be among the earliest, if not the earliest in Virginia. All four portraits were last seen together in an auction in Philadelphia in 1870.
The missing portraits include Moseley II’s mother, Susanna, elaborately dressed and wearing pieces of jewelry, and his father, William Moseley I. The Moseley family and their portraits arrived in Lynnhaven Parish, now the modern city of Virginia Beach, in late 1649.
Susanna Moseley’s jewels were ultimately sold to Sarah Thorowgood (Adam Thorowgood’s wife) for a ‘great want of cattle’ when Susanna reached Virginia. Apparently, she needed the cattle to survive more than the jewels. William Moseley II eventually married Sarah Thorowgood’s daughter from her second husband.
In her definitive landmark book, Painters and Paintings in the Early American South, Carolyn J. Weekley, the former Judy Grainger Curator at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, describes the paintings as “the most ambitious portraits known for 17th-century Virginia.” Upon viewing the portrait, Weekley added, “Surviving 17th-century portraits from this region of Virginia do exist and were undoubtedly brought here by settlers. The Moseley family portraits probably are among the most interesting and rarest of these. Miraculously, one has been located and hopefully, with additional research, the other three will surface. In 1919, they were published in one of two volumes of Charles Knowles Bolton’s The Founders. At that time, their history included ownership to Burwell Bassett Moseley of Norfolk, Virginia, a lineal descendant of William Moseley, the father of the boy, and the names of two subsequent owners.”
William Moseley I was a member of the Merchant Adventurers, an English trading company established in Holland. Sometime between the spring of 1633 and the winter of 1634, he married Susanna Burnett, the widow of another member, Arthur Blackmore. The family resided first in Delft and later in Rotterdam where William served as steward for the company, which maintained their own English churches staffed with Puritan ministers. The cause of their emigration was most likely economic. By 1649, the Merchant Adventurers were struggling. The English Parliament owed them large sums of money, and relations between Holland and England were growing strained, culminating in the War of 1653.
In March 1650, William Moseley I appeared before Virginia Governor Berkeley who appointed him to the Lower Norfolk County Court. Later that month, he was granted a patent for 550 acres for transporting himself, his wife, his sons and his stepdaughter, Susanna Blackmore Robinson, and six more “head rights” into the colony. William Moseley II married Mary Gookin, the daughter of Sarah and John Gookin.
The portraits descended through the Moseley family in Virginia Beach until Edward Hack Moseley, Jr. (Clerk of the Court for decades) died in 1814. Then they went to his son Samuel Moseley, Mayor of Norfolk. His son, Burwell Bassett Moseley, of Norfolk, sent them to his half-brother Dr. Samuel Boush, whom he called cousin, in Philadelphia for safekeeping during the Civil War. Burwell Bassett Moseley died before he recovered the paintings. His cousin died as well, but clearly stated in his legal papers that the paintings should be returned to the heirs of Burwell Bassett Moseley as they were his property. A lawsuit ensued and the Northern Philadelphia courts ruled against Burwell Bassett Moseley’s heirs. There were more legal challenges, and the Philadelphia courts ruled that the portraits should be sold and the money divided.
They were purchased at a court-ordered auction and subsequently separated. The current owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, has lent the William Moseley II portrait to Virginia Beach History Museums through the summer.
The portraits of William I and Susanna have never been seen again. The original portraits are only known by four black and white photos taken before 1900. Art historians have written about the paintings for decades and included the photographs in books, noting that the whereabouts are unknown.
“We would welcome any clues about the missing portraits,” said Anne Miller, coordinator for Virginia Beach History Museums. “We fear these very significant portraits are in someone’s attic or basement. If anyone has seen them, please let us know. It would be fascinating for Virginians and art historians to see these portraits and this family reunited again. We also know the current Moseley II owner would like to see the paintings together again.”
The Thoroughgood House is one of four historic properties operated by Virginia Beach History Museums. Located at 1636 Parish Road, the site is open to the general public Thursday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. Guided tours reveal the historic Thoroughgood House as furnished when members of the family lived there. The Thoroughgood House Education Center provides an opportunity to learn about the story of Adam Thorowgood, one of Virginia’s first colonists, and the early history of Virginia Beach through special artifacts and exhibitions. Admission is: Adults $8; Seniors $7; Students $5 (including college students with school ID). Children under age 6 are free. For more information, visit www.museumsvb.org or call (757) 385-5100.